The Third Season
The West Wing is a television series that has been regarded with extremely high praise, whether it be in the form of a positive review or an award for a series as an outstanding drama series. While it may seem nearly impossible, the third season presents material that is just as gripping as the earlier seasons. This task is accomplished by continuing to produce excellently written episodes and in-depth and highly versatile characters. For those unfamiliar with the series, The West Wing focuses upon the daily lives the President of the United States and several of his closest aides. The third season is made up of twenty-two mind bending episodes.
The third season of The West Wing happened to air after the tragic 2001 9-11 events. "Isaac and Ishmael", the very first episode of this season is not part of the series' overall plot, but rather it's a special episode that addresses the 9-11 aftermath. In this episode the cast explains the context of terrorist scares to a group of high school students. More specifically, they cover the issue of mass hysteria by educating the high school students about who the enemy really is and why they would be willing to sacrifice lives for their cause. There are also some other very interesting issues addressed in this episode, which include the wrongdoings of discrimination. I thought that the episode was done fairly well and had great intentions, but some of the approaches they used seemed a little hollow in how they tackled the subject. For instance, they way that the episode attacked the wrongdoings of discrimination seemed transparent.
After "Isaac and Ishmael" the third season officially begins, with twenty-one episodes of pure heart racking drama. It all begins where the second season left off. With the end of President Bartlet's (Martin Sheen) first presidential term nearing an end and the disconcerting medical history of Bartlet made public, Bartlet must decide if he'll run for a second term. Of course, his running or not running isn't the actual story, because if he didn't run, how would the series be starting its sixth season this Fall? Instead, this simple decision becomes the root of many great stories that trickle throughout the season.
The first, but not the most exciting, story to arise from Bartlet running for a second term, is just that, Bartlet running for a second term. Despite that we can infer the outcome, it is still very entertaining to watch how Bartlet and his aides campaign for another term, to see them in their ups and downs. Unfortunately, (but good for us) there are many obstacles in the way. This brings me to the most exciting story of season three. Because Bartlet kept certain facts about his medical history hidden from those around him, congress is investigating him, his family, and his aides. This story becomes very intriguing and gripping because it is very deep and shows how those around Bartlet really care for him. However, it is also presented in a manner that is suspenseful, which makes it an even better story. Some of the investigations are great, which tear into the personal lives of the cast and reveal some dark truths about characters we've come to know and love.
In addition, there are some other great smaller scale stories and when I say smaller, it's only because they span over an episode or two. The truth is that none of the stories in this series are actually small. In the episode "Gone Silent", an American submarine, the USS Portland, goes silent, which means the submarine is no longer transmitting communiques. This becomes a very big issue, because the USS Portland happened to be in the hostile waters of North Korea. Bartlet is forced to weigh the value of national security and the lives of the men aboard the USS Portland. "The Women of Qumar" is another excellent episode. Qumar is a fictional Middle Eastern country that employs various civil transgressions upon their daily society. Specifically their treatment of women is considered to be poor when compared to our society. Women have absolutely no rights and in this episode, the US government trades weapons for an airbase. This act fills C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney) with rage. However, this story on its own isn't the exciting part. It's more or less the fact that this fictional country is introduced, because the crew of the west wing has a run in with them later. However within this episode, there is actually a great subplot. There's a possible risk of an outbreak of mad cow disease. I found this to be an interesting subplot, simply because of the reality of the situation.
Towards the end of the season there are some really great stories. After C.J. receives a death threat, she's forced to have her own bodyguard. While at first it's a nuisance and a joke to C.J., she soon learns the graveness of the situation. This becomes very exciting to watch, because there is also some chemistry between her and her bodyguard. Also at the end of the third season, we get a very powerful story in the episodes "We Killed Yamamoto" and "Posse Comitatus". This story proves to be exciting because it touches upon our reality, terrorism. The good guys find out who the bad guy is, but unfortunately, it's not through any power recognizable by the law.
While most of the content in the third season is dramatic, there are elements of each episode that add a comical effect. For instance in "The Indians in the Lobby", Bartlet makes a rather comical call to the Butterball Hotline regarding the preparations for his thanksgiving feast. In "The Two Bartlets", Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) meets with Bob Engler, a firm believer in aliens, who makes a very odd request. Engler has a very odd theory about Area 51, aliens, and the gold bullion in Fort Knox. In general, a lot of the episodes have a playful element that sometimes helps ease the overly dramatic content of the season. I felt that this mixture of brief comedy and drama was done very well.
Overall the stories that are presented in season three are filled with hours of intrigue. They'll leave you on the edge of your sit, wanting to know what happens next. Whether you're watching the episode about the Bartlet campaign, the congressional congress investigations, or some of the daily issues the staff of the west wing deals with, you'll just appreciate how entertaining the high-pace stressful life of a west wing staffer can be.
Due to the nature of the show, in my opinion the series comes off a little repetitive. For instance, in each episode a "new" and extremely dramatic issue is introduced or revisited. The manner in which it is dealt, with the entire cast treating the issue as if it were the gravest issues they've dealt with, always comes off very strong. Their actions and their reactions sometimes appear very similar to the last situation. In some series this can be a hurtful approach, but in the case of The West Wing it strengthens it. The truth is that each situation that they encounter is just as important as the last, if not more. This methodology clearly worked in the earlier seasons and it continues to produce very good results. The third season of The West Wing does an amicable job providing gripping entertainment.
1. Isaac and Ishmael
2. Manchester Part I
3. Manchester Part II
4. Ways and Means
5. On the Day Before
6. War Crimes
7. Gone Quiet
8. The Indians in the Lobby
9. The Women of Qumar
10. Bartlet For America
11. H. Con-172
12. 100,000 Airplanes
13. The Two Bartlets
14. Night Five
15. Hartsfield's Landing
16. Dead Irish Writers
17. The U.S. Poet Laureate
19. Enemies Foreign and Domestic
20. The Black Vera Wang
21. We Killed Yamamoto
22. Posse Comitatus
The video in this release is given in an enhanced anamorphic widescreen color format. The picture quality is quite good. It suffers from a slight grain, but detail remains to be sharp and clear. However, there are some occasional moments when the picture suffers compression artifacts. This is a rare occurrence, but it does happen. Overall, the video looks much better than its original television broadcast.
The audio track in this release is in English Dolby digital stereo surround. Overall, the sound quality is very good, providing an audible and clean audio track. Like most TV on DVD releases the majority of the audio track is spoken dialogue and it sounds rather flat. However, music does sound very rich and vibrant. This release also has subtitles in the English, French, and Spanish languages.
Similar to the previous DVD releases of The West Wing, the special features include a variety of audio commentaries, deleted scenes, and featurettes. There are a total of three audio commentaries for "Manchester Part II" with Aaron Sorkin, Thomas Schlamme, and Allison Janney, "Bartlet For America" with Aaron Sorkin, Thomas Schlamme, and John Spencer, and "Posse Comitatus" with Aaron Sorkin, Alex Graves, and Thomas Schlamme. These are great for the fans and I found them interesting enough to sit through once, however I would have preferred to have heard from more of the cast members.
The deleted scenes are for episodes "The Two Bartlets", "Enemies Foreign and Domestic", and "Posse Comitatus". Together they run about five minutes and should appease the biggest fans.
The number three seems to be the magic number with this release, because there are also three featurettes. The first featurette, "A Property Master's Story", involves the cast and crew talking about the various props used in the series. It runs a little less than eleven minutes. The next featurette, "The Chief of Stuff", is thirteen minutes where cast and crew discuss Dule Hill's role as Charlie Young, the president's aide. The final featurette is the most entertaining special feature. The "Documentary Special" is forty-two minutes of interviews with the likes of former Presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and Gerald Ford and various White House staffers from the Bush, Reagan, and Clinton administrations.
I personally enjoy the high-paced drama that comes from The West Wing. Each episode seems to bring about familiar issues in a truly gripping manner. The series is exceptional in the way that it portrays its stories. If you've enjoyed any of the earlier seasons, the third season will definitely keep you occupied. If you're new to the series, it's best to start in the first season, but if you decide to start in the third season, you'll still fall madly in love with the series. The West Wing is a very good television drama.